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Science Nation: New Mosquito Repellant Could Be Frightening...for the Mosquitoes!

3 minutes

(Describer) Streams of light collide to create a globe filled with water. Title: Science Nation. Insects walk over netting.

[explosion]

(man) Anopheles gambiae always bites people.

(male narrator) In this room, live some of the deadliest, most dangerous animals in the world.

(Describer) Laurence Zwiebel:

(man) These are anopheles mosquitoes that still think that they're in central Africa. We won't tell them.

(narrator) Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes can be killers. In warmer climates, these bloodsuckers carry and spread diseases, including malaria, the second-most deadly transmitted disease in Africa. These captive mosquitoes are disease-free,

(Describer) ...in containers.

but they still bite. What makes them so predisposed to bite humans?

(narrator) With support from the National Science Foundation, molecular biologist Laurence Zwiebel and his team at Vanderbilt University want to find answers. They know mosquitoes zero in on their next meal using their keen sense of smell. A mosquito can smell us from a long distance

(Describer) Jason Pitts:

and find you based on odor plumes that you're giving off. This is the antenna of a female mosquito.

(narrator) They've identified odor receptors on the mosquito's antennae. They look like microscopic hairs. Different hairs target different smells. Anopheles hairs home in on human body odors from the CO2 in our breath to the ammonia in our sweaty feet.

(Pitts) This particular hair is sensitive to lactic acid, ammonia. The mosquito uses the odor sensors to scout her next meal. I say her because only female mosquitoes bite.

(Describer) Zwiebel:

They use it for reproductive purposes, to make eggs.

(Pitts) A female will drink her weight in blood. Only females spread human disease.

(narrator) Zwiebel and his team have isolated chemicals that target odor receptors and could be used to formulate a new class of mosquito repellent potentially more powerful than DEET. It would bombard them with so many strong odors, it would scare them away. It's literally screaming into a mosquito's nose.

(narrator) Zwiebel says other insects, including agricultural pests, also have these receptors. But so do honey bees, so repellents must be used carefully. Better understanding of how the receptors work could help take the bite out of the mosquito's ability to spread deadly disease. For Science Nation, I'm Miles O'Brien.

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Vanderbilt University researchers say they're working to unleash an insect repellent on mosquitoes that’s more powerful than DEET. The discovery could one day be effective in reducing the spread of mosquito-borne diseases, such as malaria. It's based on a mosquito's sense of smell. With support from the National Science Foundation, Vanderbilt University biologist Laurence Zwiebel researched which mosquito genes are linked to odor reception. He discovered a separate odor sensor on a mosquito's antennae. According to Zwiebel, mosquitoes use odor sensors to sniff out humans and other tasty animals to bite. The new insect repellent compound takes advantage of his discovery by overwhelming the mosquito’s odor sensors to the point that they can't smell anything else and get scared away.

Media Details

Runtime: 3 minutes

Science Nation
Episode 1
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 2
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Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 3
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Grade Level: 7 - 12
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Episode 4
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
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4 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
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Episode 7
4 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
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Episode 8
4 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
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Episode 9
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
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Episode 10
4 minutes
Grade Level: 10 - 12